Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz

DokumenttypRede | Datum21. März 2017»Building a digital world consumers can trust«

Gerd Billen, Staatssekretär im Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz, Berlin

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Your Excellencies,
Dear colleagues,
Dear Members of Parliament,
Dear Ms Long,
Dear Mr Müller,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Permit me to once again extend to all of you a warm welcome to the G20 Consumer Summit in Berlin. As Federal Minister Maas emphasised yesterday in his words of welcome, this is the very first Consumer Summit in the history of the Group of Twenty. At long last, the interests of consumers are coming to be heard in the context of the G20!

At our conference today, speakers offering new and exciting perspectives, co-organisers who have shaped this summit, and leading scientists will all contribute to making this event a success for all of us:

I look forward to the presentations to be given by my colleague from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Mr Machnig, and by Teresa Moreira of UNCTAD – both of them will be setting the framework for our conference by providing us with further insights on the work done by the G20 and the United Nations on digitisation and for consumer protection.

In organising the G20 Consumer Summit, we were able to rely on two major partners with whom we enjoyed a wonderful collaboration:

The Federation of German Consumer Organisations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband), along with the regional consumer organisations under its umbrella, provide crucial support to consumers in Germany, while also serving as reliable partners in the dialogue with policymakers and the economic sector alike.

The world federation ‘Consumers International’ not only provides a forum for the national consumer organisations within which they can network – it ensures that consumer interests are heard at the international level.

Professor Thorun of ConPolicy and Mr Wyckoff, Director of the OECD, will both provide us with the scientific foundation on which to exchange our views.

But the most important contribution towards the success of our conference today will be made by you, our guests. It is a great pleasure to see that around 300 attendees from the G20 and from many other nations have come to Berlin: We are proud to be hosting high-ranking representatives of governments, supervisory authorities, and international organisations, and also from the consumer-protection movement, from the economic sector, and from academia.

Decision-makers and renowned experts will share their perspectives in papers, discussion groups, and panel discussions addressing specific topics – and of course, you as the conference attendees are always invited to join the discussion as well!

By way of having a record of our efforts in a tangible document that it is possible to distribute among readers, Consumers International and the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband) will be submitting recommendations from the consumer-protection movement to the Group of Twenty today.

Without pre-empting the insights and the recommendations that this document sets out, I do wish to briefly outline the areas for action that I see for the G20 where consumer protection in our digital age is concerned – areas in which we will be able to jointly achieve success. There are five of them:
 Access to the internet,
 Good Corporate Citizenship of Enterprises,
 Protection of personal data and the sphere of private life,
 Online security, and
 Fairness in online trade.

1.) There continues to be lots of uncharted territory across the globe in which it is not possible to have a telephone conversation, much less gain access to the internet. And even if you do manage to get a connection, the data transmission can be very slow in some places. And as I say this, please don’t think “remote, rural areas” – this is something I experience often enough also in Germany!
We want to have a world in which everyone has access to the internet in order to obtain information there, to express his or her opinion, or to participate in the discussions ongoing among the various internet communities.

However, we would be turning our love of freedom upside down were we to allow something like the Wild West to take hold on the internet. If people are insulted, if they are defamed by offensive statements or if they are subjected to threats, we need to set legal boundaries, whether on the net or in the analogue world. The operators of social networks cannot step away from their responsibility – they must instead introduce mechanisms by which complaints brought by users can be processed efficiently and illegal content can be taken offline without delay.

3.) The third area for action to which I had referred was the protection of personal data and the private sphere of people. Just recently, some journalists had some fun with the owner of an electronically operated car garage: They opened the garage door remotely while they were speaking to him on the telephone. Obviously, this trick had a serious background: Increasingly, we find ourselves surrounded by objects that collect and evaluate data about our behaviour.

The refrigerators in our intelligent homes will soon provide information about our eating habits, lamps will know the times we are normally at home and when we are not, and our television will not only report on our tastes, but also on the conversations we have in our sitting room. In a world this intelligent, it is not only playful journalists or hackers against whom we need to protect ourselves. It is important to make sure that the right to our private life and to the protection of our data is assured also vis-à-vis the enterprises providing us with all these intelligent household appliances. This is why data processing must be responsible, self-determined, and transparent to all data subjects affected. Technologies serving to protect these data and works settings that are conducive to data protection are important components safeguarding these interests.

4.) Another area for action is online security. Step by step, or rather one turn of the wheel after the other, automated driving is progressing further. Soon, passengers will be able to lean back and read the paper while their vehicle is transporting them to their destination. But the pre-condition for automated driving is that the digital infrastructure is secure. And another factor, perhaps less firmly anchored in the general public’s awareness, but none the less decisive, is the supply with energy and water. In this regard, we need to have adequate risk management mechanisms in place, we need to raise awareness with enterprises and consumers, and any crimes committed online must be prosecuted effectively.

5.) My last point is fairness in online trading. Never before has the range of products on offer been so big – and never before was our business partner as unknown to us, and perhaps as far away, as is the case today. This setting is suited to enabling shady business models to be pursued by rogue traders or even fraudsters. So this principle must apply in online trading as well: consumers must be afforded a level of protection that is just as high as the one they enjoy in transactions into which they enter face-to-face.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I look forward to our discussion of the measures we need to take in order to adequately protect and empower consumers in this digital age. Here in Germany, we still use the somewhat old-fashioned term of “respectable merchant.” I do not want to see this type of merchant, with whom doing business is a pleasure, become extinct just because he is no longer able to hold his own in a digital world. We cannot let honourable merchants be displaced by dubious profiteers. This would be detrimental to the honest enterprises just as much as it would be to consumers.

In this sense, let us all make sure that the Group of Twenty uses its power to make a contribution to consumer protection in the digital age!

I look forward to the new and interesting insights I will gain at this conference and to the discussions with you!

Thank you.